8 key insights about the international teaching market

A new report from COBIS provides insights into some of the key trends affecting international teacher recruitment, retention, and job satisfaction - these are the headline findings you need to know

Dan Worth

growth in international schools

The Council of British International Schools (COBIS) has recently released its Teacher Supply in British International Schools report featuring feedback from 1,100 international educators

Gathered between January and March 2020, the report offers numerous insights into the state of international teacher recruitment and retention, and the reasons teachers from the UK move overseas, what they find when they get there, and why they return.

COBIS chairman Trevor Rowell acknowledged that, given the timing of the report and when the data was gathered, the situation could change.

However, he said the way in which international schools had responded to the situation suggested the market was well-placed to move forward and continue to engage in long-standing challenges on issues such as recruitment and retention.

“We are publishing this research in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, and we recognise that, when the data was collected earlier this year, the landscape was very different.

"But the way British international schools have responded to Covid-19 – managing school closures, delivering high-quality remote learning to meet the diverse needs of their students, and prioritising the wellbeing of their school communities including students, staff and parents – reinforces the findings that these are tremendous schools offering exceptional personal and professional opportunities for teachers."

With that in mind, we've been through the report to pick out some of the key findings and insights that international teachers and senior leaders need to know.

1. Culture and travel

While the lure of a bigger salary may seem an obvious reason for teachers to move overseas, the biggest motivations are travel and cultural exploration (72 per cent) followed by enjoyment and challenge (62 per cent).

That said, salary (49 per cent) and career growth (47 per cent) are still important considerations within recruitment strategies.  

2. International roles can save a teacher

Notably, a third of teachers surveyed said that they were considering leaving the education profession before moving to teach overseas, suggesting the old adage that "a change is as good as a rest" is certainly true.

3. Happiness abounds

What’s more, once teachers start an international position they seem to love it, with 82 per cent of new international school teachers saying they are "happy" or "very happy" with their experience.

A further three-quarters say they feel their work-life balance has improved since moving to the international sector and that they feel valued and respected as a teacher.

4. Recruitment is still hard – but it's improving a bit

Despite the strong positives among teachers around teaching overseas, recruitment remains a tough challenge for international school leaders, with 88 per cent saying it is "somewhat" or "very challenging".

This is down, though, from 94 per cent in the 2018 report.

5. Long-term retention also a challenge

Despite the positive of working overseas, almost 70 per cent of teachers return to their home nation within 10 years of moving abroad.

Family commitments, at 28 per cent, and an overall desire to return home, at 37 per cent, are the main drivers.

6. Returning teachers laden with skills

Those that do return see themselves as gaining many skills from teaching internationally, such as cultural awareness (81 per cent); global outlook and international mindedness (71 per cent); English as an additional language experience (62 per cent); adaptability (61 per cent); and resilience (60 per cent).

7. Local teachers are becoming more desirable

Given these issues, it is perhaps no surprise to see that more than a third of senior leaders (34 per cent) have increased recruitment of local staff – up from 27 per cent in 2018.

Furthermore, schools are also engaging with training new teachers in their locality. Nearly two-thirds of schools have supported teachers to gain UK teaching qualifications through programmes such as postgraduate certificate in education, international postgraduate certificate in education, or assessment-only qualified teacher status in the past two years.

Certainly, this is a trend to keep an eye on as it could have a dramatic impact on the opportunities of UK teachers wanting to move overseas, and how local graduates and existing teachers look for new opportunities in this burgeoning market.

8. International teaching comes highly recommended

All told, teachers are very positive on international teaching, with 57 per cent saying they would definitely recommend the experience to other teachers.

Dan Worth is senior editor at Tes

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